A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Lorrie Day Anson preach from the narrative lectionary (one of the perks of my work is getting to hear great preachers!). The passage was a familiar one from the second chapter of Mark:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
Lorrie wove into her sermon a commentary by Angela Dienhart Hancock that spoke about blending the new with the old. Hancock points out that it is possible to apply a new patch to old fabric… if that patch is preshrunk. As for new wine and old skins? They can’t be merged, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful in their own ways.
As a society, we have assigned (random?) value to age. Throughout the church, leadership paints with broad-brush strokes and makes assumptions that what is new is essentially good, or that what is traditional is what is true.
What is needed is not a one-era-fits all mentality to congregational vitality, but rather a contextual analysis of what is working and what is not.
What is needed is an ability to put aside ownership of our traditions as well as idolatry of all that is new and shiny in order to discern where God is calling each congregation to serve.
There will be times when it will be necessary to apply a new patch to an old garment. Done well, this can continue (and expand!) the ministry of that congregation. There will be other times when the parable of the parallel usage is a better option – both new wine and old wineskins both having purpose but in different settings.
Of course, the process of contextual evaluation is far more difficult than either a) buying a drum set for worship or b) vetoing a drum set. It requires leadership to deeply listen to folks in the pews, as well as those outside the walls. It also requires an openness to the movement of the Spirit. Where is God calling us to go? Who is God calling us to be? How are we doing at effectively spreading the transformative love of Jesus Christ?
Church, we know how to do this. We regularly take that which is ancient and allow the Spirit to breathe new life into it. We preach from a text that is 2000 years old, and worship a God who is Alpha and Omega.
Let us do the hard work of being the church. Together.